Fashion Math that Doesn’t Add Up

There’s a reason I don’t buy jeans. Sizes, cuts, and all that jazz—it doesn’t make sense to me. There’s not even a semi-standard sizing across the stores, and after shopping for simple jeans and a white t-shirt, I left the mall with a headache and no clothes. I’m happy to go back to my standard black leggings and a cute dress, thank you very much.

It didn’t use to be that way. There wasn’t always such variety when it came to women’s sizes. According to The New Yorker, as women have grown larger over the years, standards dating back to the ‘80s have become irrelevant to the average woman—and now we’re stuck with the mess we have today.

I headed to the mall to find out what size of clothes I should really buy. For the sake of standardization (or lack thereof), I attempted to find a pair of mid-rise skinny jeans and a basic white shirt at each store. I tried to grab what I thought would fit my 5’5” and 125-pound frame (a medium shirt and a size 6 pair of jeans) and then what I’d actually buy if I was going to spend all that money.


American Eagle

Results: Jeans – 6; Shirt – M

American Eagle has really formed my ideas about what size I am. I’ve shopped there before, and I know what to grab—4 or 6 in pants and medium in tops. Sure enough, a pair of size 6 skinny jeans and a medium white shirt fit just fine. Size expectations equaled reality.


Results: Jeans – 28; Shirt – S

I love Anthropologie, but until now, I’d never tried on their clothes. Yes, the large price tag is a major component of that, but the cute home décor around the store also distracts me. I found a flowy white top and a pair of skinny jeans and made a beeline for the dressing room. To start, I tried on size 27 jeans with a medium shirt. The top felt like a maternity shirt. I know it was made to be loose, but not that loose. In contrast, the jeans were a little too tight on my tummy. A size 28 was way more comfortable and flattering, and I liked the size small top better.

Forever 21

Results: Jeans – 27; Shirt – S

My mom once told me that when I turn 21, I’d start to feel old shopping at Forever 21. It’s true. I love the carefully ordered chaos when I’m not looking for something specific, but this time it felt overwhelming. Why was it so hard to find a plain white shirt with no words? It shouldn’t have been that difficult. Also, their jeans come in the whole 20-something sizing, which I still don’t understand. I grabbed a 28 (considered “medium”) for my size 6 equivalent, since I had no idea what else to try on. The 27 actually fit better, though still not exceptionally well. And while I originally had on a medium shirt, I ended up liking the small better.

Charlotte Russe

Results: Jeans – 0; Shirt – XS

I’m a little biased because I used to work at a Charlotte Russe. And to be honest, I’ve never liked how their pants looked on me. But I tried the mid rise “skinny boyfriend,” the only other skinny jean that isn’t a “skintight” fit, and I actually really loved them. It wasn’t just because I fit best into a size 0—which was a nice ego boost—but they actually fit my body shape pretty well from waist to thighs to ankles. The shirt wasn’t too bad. I went from wearing a medium to an extra small, and it was a pretty basic fitting tee.


Results: Jeans – 2; Shirt – XS

I love Express. I actually own size six Express jeans, so I thought I knew I would be a six. Actually, the six was huge on me (to be fair, the ones I own have gotten loose on me…maybe I’m losing weight…ha, I wish).  I ended up fitting best in a two. Also, same deal with the medium shirt. I ended up with the extra small looking the best (another ego booster).

J. Crew

Results: Jeans – 27; Shirt – XS

Walking into a J. Crew is so different than walking into a cheap-clothing store. It just FEELS more chic (and expensive). And there are also people there to help you. I asked the sales lady what size she would say is a size 6 (since they also had the bizarre 20-numbers that make no sense). She recommended a size 27, and it fit perfectly. The medium white shirt was huge on me, and the XS was a better fit, but not designed at all for a girl with boobs. It just kind of hung on me like a tent.


Results: Jeans – ?; Shirt – ?

I’ve never been a Hollister fan. Maybe as a Midwestern girl, I’ve never been big on the whole “surfer chick” style. Or maybe it’s the fact that it’s so dark inside the store I can hardly see what I’m looking for—I don’t know. Once I found them, the size five pair of skinny jeans fit my waist and butt, but honestly looked ridiculous from there. The rest of the pants were too loose, and I didn’t like how they looked on me at all—maybe I should be thankful for the dim lights. The shirt I tried on looked ridiculous in medium. It was embarrassingly tight across the chest. So I tried on a large (different color but same style), and while it still didn’t fit that well, at least it was better than the skin-tight medium.

By the end of the day, I was exhausted. The only thing I left the mall with was a headache and a facemask for a night of decompression after all the stress of shopping. Sizing makes no sense—and I think it’s about time someone standardizes it already.

Photos by Brian Parker

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